Frédéric Chopin

Préludes

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 40 Minutes
Genre: Piano Cycle
Time of Creation: 1836–1839
World Premiere: Unknown

Table of Contents

Chopin's Préludes in 5 Sentences

The Préludes by Frédéric Chopin are a collection of short piano pieces. Chopin wrote them at the height of his creative powers. The Polish composer took The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach (Chopin’s favorite composer besides Mozart) as his model. The Préludes cover a wide range of moods, from dark, melancholy sounds to poetic vocal lines to fiery, virtuosic passages. Chopin’s Préludes had a great influence on later composers such as Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Shostakovich.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Chopin's Préludes

Highlight 1: No. 4 in E minor

This prelude is very well known. It was played at Chopin’s request at his own funeral, along with Mozart’s Requiem. Often this piece has been interpreted as a “desperate search.” The melody strives downward throughout, but reaches the resolution sound just before the end.

Highlight 2: No. 15 in D flat major

This prelude was written in Mallorca. George Sand, Chopin’s partner, described the episode that an approaching storm caused Frédéric Chopin great anxiety. The piece was therefore nicknamed the “Raindrop Prelude.”

Highlight 3: No. 16 in B flat minor

One of the most difficult preludes in the collection. The leaps in the left hand combined with the frantic runs in the right hand are a challenge even for outstanding pianists:

Highlight 4: No. 24 in D minor

This concluding prelude is the highlight of the collection in terms of pianistic difficulty. Trills, frantic scales, and perhaps the most famous cascade of thirds in music history (shown in the video beginning at 37:16) mark the virtuosic conclusion of Chopin’s Préludes:

3 Questions and Answers about Chopin's Préludes

Question 1: Are Chopin's Préludes difficult to play?

The great thing about Chopin’s Préludes is that not only in terms of moods, but also in terms of difficulty, there is everything: some Préludes can be mastered by ambitious beginners, others are moderately difficult, and some (especially No. 16 and No. 24) are highly virtuosic.

Question 2: To whom did Chopin dedicate his Préludes?

Chopin originally intended to dedicate his Préludes to the pianist and composer Joseph Christoph Kessler. However, he later changed his mind and dedicated the work to the pianist and piano maker Camille Pleyel.

Question 3: Were Chopin's Préludes a novelty?

The brevity with which Chopin expresses musical content has always been perceived as an innovation with regard to Chopin’s Préludes. The music philosopher Theodor W. Adorno therefore saw in Chopin’s Préludes (and Schumann’s Kinderszenen) the foundation stone for the later orchestral miniatures of Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg.

2 Recommended Recordings of Chopin's Préludes

Recording 1: Yuja Wang (Live, 2017)

There’s not much to say about Yuja Wang – she’s simply a virtuoso. Here she plays Chopin’s Préludes at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice:

Recording 2: Seong-Jin Cho (Live, 2017)

This recording comes from a proven Chopin specialist – South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2015:

1 Quote about Chopin's Préludes

If all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin's Preludes.

Henry Finck (musicologist)

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